Tuesday, January 6, 2009

from The Journey & A Tale of Two Snails

The long road up ...

While reading his selected poems, these last two verses of The Journey by James Wright stood out:

from The Journey
I found the spider web there, whose hinges
Reeled heavily and crazily with the dust,
Whole mounds and cemeteries of it, sagging
And scattering among shells and wings.
And then she stepped into the center of air
Slender and fastidious, the golden hair
Of daylight along her shoulders, she poised there,
While ruins crumbled on every side of her.
Free of the dust, as though a moment before
She had stepped inside the earth, to bathe herself.

I gazed, close to her till at last she stepped
Away in her own good time
Many men
Have searched all over Tuscany and never found
What I found there, the heart of the light
Itself shelled and leaved, balancing
On filaments themselves falling. The secret
Of this journey is to let the wind
Blow its dust all over your body,
To let it go on blowing, to step lightly, lightly
All the way through your ruins, and not to lose
Any sleep over the dead, who surely
Will bury their own, don't worry.
James Wright

In his last few volumes of verse, James Wright mixed prose and lyric poetry nearly equally and, in that, the reader can almost feel the process of creation. The blend of work was so unique, the prose poems so highly charged, that when I returned to The Journey after many years I was surprised to find it was not one of the prose poems; similarly when I saw Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries after many years, I was stunned it was not in color because that's how I remembered it.

Here is one of Wright's late prose poems:

A Snail at Assisi

-----The snail shell has lain up here all summer long, I suppose. It
is smaller than my thumbnail, where it rests now, but it casts its light
shadow huge on the ground, and my shadow is there, following very
carefully. Already the light has taken my shadow into the air and
laid it down the slope below me, where it grows longer and longer,
always moving, yet hardly to be seen moving. The air is dry far up
here on the highest hill of Assisi, on the far side of the fortress wall
where the earth falls nearly straight down. Even as I squint in the
sun and try to bear it alive, I wonder how the tiny snail was alive and
climbed and climbed and made it all the way up to this pinnacle, the
armed building and the arrow-skewered wall. The great hollow
skeleton of this fortress is empty now, its back turned away from
Francis's solitary hill, its face still set grimly toward Perugia. The
snail is long gone, maybe lifted high into sunlight, devoured by song-
birds between one fortress and another. By this time, one more long
summer afternoon is nearly over. My shadow and the shadow of the
snail shell are one and the same.
James Wright

And, perhaps, Issa's most famous poem:

O snail
Climb Mt. Fuji,
but slowly, slowly!
Issa trans. by R. H. Blyth



Charles Gramlich said...

That first piece, from the Journey, really has some elements of horror in the imagery. Very intersting.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Charles, I agree, I think his attention to detail brings out his deeper feelings about what he sees ... though not perhaps the intent, the feel is there. Don